Jamaican Dancehall and the Millennial Generation of America
I have been fortunate to have been exposed to the best of both worlds growing-up. I live in Jamaica, and every holiday break I had up until university was spent in either New York City or Atlanta, Georgia. That has given me appreciative ears to almost every single musical genre birthed in Jamaica and the USA. I’m grateful for that.
“Appropriation” is one of the lastest buzz words on Twitter with regards to Drake’s usage of dancehall music recently. Persons’ views on the matter include calling him either “culture vulture”, a “door opener” for dancehall, or just someone taking advantage of a popular sound at the moment.
As someone born in 1990, Drake has been the most relate-able artiste to me post-808s & Heartbreak Kanye West. I know that he has been listening to dancehall for a very long time. On his sophomore mixtape “Comeback Season,” released in 2007, the outro included Mavado & Serani’s Dying (later used as a sample this year in 9 off Views). Since then, as far back as 2011 I can recall, he has been tweeting with reference to dancehall music, such as Popcaan’s Yiy Change mixtape at the time. Shoot, even 2010’s Find Your Love music video was shot in Jamaica, and 2013 NWTS included a track entitled From Time, which is a verrrryyyy old Jamaican lingo term. It’s safe to say that he is a fan of the dancehall genre.
The problem at hand though is that since 2014, his appreciation for dancehall has turned into an addition to his artistic foray, many times without crediting the genre itself. Jamaicans have always loved Drake, but we started to question some of his motives when our slang ‘Way Up,” was featured in his Big Sean collaboration Blessings, and then appeared on OVO merchandise for sale. Yes, this is the same slang Fat Joe is profiting off from now with his career rejuvenation All The Way Up. His biggest single Lean Back, was his take on the Jamaican dance Rock Away, which drew the ire of Elephant Man who rightfully alleged culture theft.
After the “Way Up,” usage slipped under the rug, a majority of Drake’s social media captions began being written in Jamaican patois. This gave him an additional cool factor undoubtedly, but once again, persons outside of being touched by the Jamaican diaspora began thinking words such as “Earthstrong” are native to Drake’s Toronto, and not Jamaica. One of the biggest indictments against Jamaican culture has been Toronto City folk claiming Jamaican patois as “Toronto Slang.” Nothing is wrong with using and appreciating another culture, but that certainly doesn’t give you grounds to claim it as yours.
While Popcaan’s vocals were scattered across If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, being a greed and proud Jamaican, I wished that this could have been translated into a tangible feature. Which is exactly how I felt about his Mavado and Vybz Kartel shoutouts a few years aback. After this, Drake and Rihanna were featured on one of the most popular dancehall songs of all time, the latter’s Work. Millenials will think that dancehall is native to Rihanna’s Barbados, which it is not. They are a soca country, and as recently as this year are calling for a public radio ban on the Jamaican music genre.
There is a photo of Work video director Little X, standing beside Drake and Rihanna in a “Tommy Hilfiger,” Jamaican Rasta inspired mesh merino dress on the set of Work. All three are fans of dancehall, but none are Jamaican. Currently, no Jamaican in the genre have reached close to the heights of Work popularity (and monetary) wise, but we must be OK with the genre being displayed solely by others to the world. We love the global adoration, but hope for a tad bit more appreciation for Jamaican produced dancehall music.
Instead of Magic!’s Rude for Reggae, how about a fair shot for Jamaican produced reggae? Instead of solely Rihanna and Justin Bieber with Sorry for dancehall-pop, how about some Samantha J Bad Like Yuh on Z100 rotation? I can ask for these things forever, but us Jamaicans too have to play our part in creating palatable dancehall and reggae music for the masses overseas.
I have a theory that since the most popular Jamaican dancehall acts in recent years such as Vybz Kartel, for years Mavado, Aidonia, and Busy Signal, have not been able to travel to the United States, it has indirectly produced a creative vacuum for Jamaican-based dancehall music to only be created for the genre’s immediate bases: Jamaica, the Caribbean, the Caribbean diaspora in NA & the UK, and pockets of underground dancehall lovers in Europe and Japan. To move out of this box, I’m hoping that dancehall will make use of its current opportunity of limelight, whether good or bad, from Drake taking Popcaan off Controlla, and create its own releases that are ready for mainstream America’s millennials and generations to come. I only hope that the majors and media, give Alkaline, Popcaan, Protoje et al a chance, just like the blog placements given to a Ramriddlz, or Drake’s One Dance.
Oh, and congrats Twitter. The version of Popcaan on Controlla has been added to US radio quietly. I hope that one day the millennials of North America know that dancehall or dancehall influenced tracks from their radio speakrs can also come from Jamaica, and not just a sample or feature on Drake and Major Lazer tracks.
One Love, and you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for all writing queries.